SC upholds dismissal of 14 PNP officials over chopper scam

MANILA — The Supreme Court (SC) has upheld the dismissal of 14 high-ranking officials of the Philippine National Police (PNP) involved in the controversial purchase of helicopters in 2009.

In a decision received by the Office of the Ombudsman on January 15, the SC reinstated the Ombudsman’s May 30, 2012 joint resolution ordering the dismissal from the service of Police Directors Leocadio Santiago, Jr. and George Piano, Senior Superintendents Job Nolan Antonio, Edgar Paatan, Mansue Lukban, and Claudio Gaspar, Jr., Chief Superintendents Herold Ubalde and Luis Saligumba, Superintendent Ermilando Villafuerte, and Roman Loreto; Chief Inspector Maria Josefina Reco, Senior Police Officer 3 Ma. Linda Padojinog, Police Officer 3 Avensuel Dy, and non-uniformed personnel Ruben Gongona.

In 2012, the Ombudsman found the 14 PNP officials guilty of serious dishonesty and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.

Likewise, the 14 respondents were meted with accessory penalties of perpetual disqualification from holding public office and forfeiture of retirement benefits, aside from their dismissal from the service.

Ombudsman probers found that in 2009, the PNP purchased from Manila Aerospace Products Trading Corporation (MAPTRA) two standard Robinson R44 Raven I light police operational helicopters (LPOH) worth PHP62.67 million and one fully equipped Robinson R44 Raven II LPOH worth PHP42.31 million.

In the procurement documents, the PNP-approved specifications required the helicopters to be brand-new, air-conditioned, and with a minimum of three hours’ endurance.

However, upon project implementation, the MAPTRA delivered only one brand new Robinson Raven II LPOH, while the two standard Robinson Raven I were pre-owned by the former First Gentleman Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo.

Piano filed a petition for review before the Court of Appeals (CA).

On May 28, 2014, the CA rendered a ruling exonerating Piano from the administrative charges.

The case was elevated by the Ombudsman to the SC for the reversal of Piano’s exoneration.

In its decision, the SC said, “The CA erred in exonerating [Piano] of the charge of serious dishonesty and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service as found by the Ombudsman.”

“Respondent [Piano] is the Chairman of the PNP Inspection and Acceptance Committee (IAC). The IAC plays a very important role in the procurement process of the agency, since it has the responsibility of inspecting the deliveries to make sure they conform to the quantity and approved technical specifications in the supply contract and the purchase order and to accept or reject the same. Notably, only after the IAC’s final acceptance of the items delivered can be supplier be paid by the PNP,” the SC ruled.

The SC took note of Piano’s role in the chopper deal when he signed Resolution No. IAC-09-045 claiming that “after inspection and evaluation, the Committee found the said items to be conforming [with] the approved NAPOLCOM specifications and passed the acceptance criteria.”

The PNP’s Weapons Tactics and Communications Division submitted a report disclosing the non-conformity of the delivered helicopters to the approved technical specifications.

However, Piano, as IAC Chairman, failed to make further inquiries or validated the lack of compliance and deviation from requirements.

Piano’s act of signing the Resolution No. IAC-09-045 “is a distortion of truth in a matter connected with the performance of his duties,” the SC said.

It added: “The 1987 Constitution itself underscores that public office is a public trust and that public officers and employees must, at all times, be accountable to the people. This imposes upon the SC the responsibility of holding public officers accountable for their blatant disregard of the high standard of ethics, competence, and accountability demanded of them. Those in public service, such as herein respondent P/Director Piano, are thus, cautioned to act in full accordance with this constitutional standard, for this Court will not shirk from its duty of upholding administrative sanctions against erring public servants.”